Centuries-old antiques stolen from Afghan museum

KABUL (AFP) — Antiques dating back 1,300 years have been stolen from a museum in western Afghanistan, officials said Saturday, blaming a “powerful gang” for the theft after a suspect was found dead.

The national museum at Herat, the second largest city in Afghanistan, was raided last week, deputy culture minister Mohammad Zia Afshar told a news conference in Kabul.

The authorities said two suspects were taken into custody for interrogation and one of them had died in prison under unclear circumstances.

“We’re investigating whether he was killed. If we find out that he was murdered in prison this will confirm our suspicions that that we are dealing with a very dangerous gang,” Najibullah Manali, another ministry official, told the same news conference.

He said police were hunting 22 missing artefacts including clay, metal and and stone-made items, some from pre-Islamic Buddhist-era Afghanistan, which dates back about 13 centuries.

Antiques from the 11th century Ghaznavides and 15th century Timurid empire era were also missing, Manali said. He did not give exact details of the antiques.

Afghanistan has lost scores of priceless archaeological artefacts through thefts from museums during decades of conflict.

Most of the items are alleged to have been smuggled to neighbouring Pakistan before reaching private collectors in rich gulf or Western countries.

Afghanistan’s biggest museum, the Kabul-based National Museum which was said to be one of the richest in the region, was levelled during the civil war of 1992-1996.

The strife-torn country suffered its biggest cultural loss after the Taliban — in power between 1996 and 2001 — destroyed the giant Buddha statues in central Bamiyan.

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